The Influence of Non-Western Music In Western Art Music

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A Listening Workshop Presented by Bill Cahn

Concept 1: Globalization – A Powerful New Factor:

The exchanging of ideas between people – individuals, tribes, cultures, nations, institutions – is not new; it has always been a part of human interaction. In music the process of embracing ideas from sources outside of one’s own immediate environment can be identified virtually wherever music is made. A major new factor affecting the flow of ideas is globalization – instant access to the world’s music through travel, distribution of products (audio-cassettes, video-cassettes, CDs, etc.), and electronic communications (radio, television, movies, computers, internet, etc.).

Concept 2: Non-Western ideas that have influenced Western art music:

1. Ideas about Musical Instruments and Their Sounds

example 1 – “The Janissaries’ Air” (Ensemble of the Turkish Republic)

example 2 – “Il Seraglio Overture” (1782) by W.A.Mozart

2. Ideas about Compositional Forms in Music

example 3 – Amadinda (xylophone) music from Uganda

example 4 – “Clapping Music” (1972) by Steve Reich

3. Ideas about Musical Style and Performance Techniques

example 5 – North Indian vocal music demonstration

example 6 – “Ancient Voices of Children” (1970) by George Crumb

example 7 – “Turandot” (1924) by Giacomo Puccini

4. Ideas about The Basic Elements of Music

example 8 – Harmony – Gagaku (Japanese court music)

example 9 – “Epitaph for Moonlight” by R. Murray Schafer

example 10 – Rhythm – “Agbekor” (Trad. Ghana) bell cycle demonstration

example 11 – “Désordre” from Etudes for Piano (1985),György Legeti

example 12 – Pitch/Timbre – “XpiotóöouAoç”, Florina Brass Band (Greece)

example 13 – Petroushka (organ grinder) (1911) by Igor Stravinsky

example 14 – Melody – Shakuhachi (Japanese flute)

example 15 – “From me flows what you call Time” (1990) by Toru Takemitsu

Concept 3: Techniques for Listening to unfamiliar music:

1. Relax (with a deep breath, body tension released, mind cleared)

2. Do not rush to judgement about what is heard (what it is or what it means) and try to set aside                    your pre-conceptions and biases.

3. Try to notice as much as possible about the sounds you hear:

* components (pitch, volume, rhythm, timbre, etc.);

* changes that might occur over time (in mood, instrumentation, tempo, etc.).

4. Ask yourself questions, and think of your own plausible answers:

* What specifically do I hear that is new to me, or that I don’t understand?

* How does this music compare with music I know?

* What specifically do I think the performer(s)/composer is trying to say?

* What specific elements of this music seem to me to be of importance?

* What must I do to be able to appreciate this music more deeply?

* What strategies can I use as a performer/educator to share this music with audiences/students?

Gyorgy Ligeti (b.1923, Hungary), “Disorder” (Désordre) from Etudes for Piano (1985)

In His Own Words –

” I am using only an idea from African notions of movement, not the music itself. In Africa, cycles or periods of constantly equal length are supported by a regular beat (which is usually danced, not played). The individual beat can be divided into two, three, sometimes even four or five ‘elementary units’ or fast pulses. I employ neither the cyclic form nor the beats, but use rather the elementary pulse as an underlying gridwork. I use this principle in Désordre for accent shifting, which allows illusory pattern deformations to emerge: the pianist plays a steady rhythm, but the irregular distribution of accents leads to seemingly chaotic configurations. Another fundamental characteristic of African music was significant to me: the simultaneity of symmetry and asymmetry. The cycles are always structured asymmetrically (e.g., twelve pulses in 7+5), although the beat, as conceived by the musicians, proceeds in even pulses.”

The American Symphony Orchestra League’s IN THE NEWS (on-line news) Edited by Melinda Whiting, October 18, 2001


In Thursday’s (10/18) Washington Post, Philip Kennicott talks with Yo-Yo Ma about his Silk Road Project, which begins its American tour this Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Part of the Silk Road Ensemble’s tour has already been disrupted by current events, as concerts in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, originally scheduled from Oct. 4 to 10, have been postponed. Kennicott notes that the project is “paying plenty of attention to countries that surround Afghanistan — Iran to the west, which ties the country to the refined traditions of Persian music, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north.”

Ma says, “It’s not about McWorld. The idea is to make innovation and tradition sit down together.” Kennicott writes that “the project will commission new pieces rather than merely present folk musicians playing traditional music alongside Western players.” The project continues “at least through next summer, when the music of the Silk Road will be the subject of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall.”

Recommended Reading:

1. Booth, Eric. The Everyday Work of Art. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 1997, 1999

2. Locke, David. Drum Gahu: An Introduction to African Rhythm. Reno, NV: White Cliffs Media, 1998

3. Machlis, Joseph, & Forney, Kristine. The Enjoyment of Music. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999 (Eighth Edition)

4. Mathieu, W.A. The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1991

5. Nachmanovich, Stephen. Free Play: Improvisation In Life and Art. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1990

6. Tenzer, Michael. Balinese Music. Seattle, WA: Periplus Editions Inc./University of Washington Press, 1991

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